Tribadism (// TRIB-ə-diz-əm) or tribbing, commonly known by its scissoring position, is a sex act in which a woman rubs her vulva against her partner's body for sexual stimulation, especially for ample stimulation of the clitoris. This may involve female-to-female genital contact or a female rubbing her vulva against her partner's thigh, stomach, buttocks, arm, or other body part (excluding the mouth). A variety of sex positions are practiced, including the missionary position.
The term tribadism is usually used in the context of lesbian sex, and originally encompassed societal beliefs about women's capability of being penetrative sexual partners. Women accused of having been penetrative during sexual activity were subject to ridicule or punishment. In modern times, the term typically refers to various forms of non-penetrative sex (or frottage) between women without any negative connotations. It may also involve vaginal penetration by use of the fingers, a dildo or double penetration dildo, or refer to a masturbation technique in which a woman rubs her vulva against an inanimate object such as a bolster to achieve orgasm.
History and culture
Etymology and usage
The term tribadism derives from the Greek word τριβάς (tribas), "a woman who practises unnatural vice with herself or with other women", which derives from the verb τρίβω (tribō), "rub". In ancient Greek and Roman sexuality, a tribas, or tribade (IPA:/ˈtrɪbəd/ /tribad/), was a woman or intersex individual who actively penetrated another person (male or female) through use of the clitoris or a dildo. This did not begin to refer exclusively to eroticism between women until Late Antiquity. Because penetration was viewed as "male-defined" sexuality, a tribas was considered the most vulgar lesbian. The Greeks and Romans recognized same-sex attraction, but as any sexual act was believed to require that one of the partners be "phallic" and that therefore sexual activity between women was impossible without this feature, mythology popularly associated lesbians with either having enlarged clitorises or as incapable of enjoying sexual activity without the substitution of a phallus. This appears in Greek and Latin satires as early as the late first century.
In English texts, tribade is recorded as early as 1601, in Ben Jonson's Praeludium (Poem X in The Forest), to as late as the mid-nineteenth century; it was the most common lesbian term in European texts, through the proliferation of classical literature, anatomies, midwiferies, sexual advice manuals, and pornography. It also came to refer to lesbian sexual practices in general, though anatomical investigation in the mid-eighteenth century led to skepticism about stories of enlarged clitorises and anatomists and doctors argued for a more precise distinction between clitoral hypertrophy and hermaphroditism. "More often, however, [European] writers avoided the term, instead euphemistically invoking 'unnatural vice,' 'lewd behavior,' 'crimes against nature,' 'using an instrument,' and 'taking the part of a man.'" In the eighteenth century, where the term saw one of its most popular uses, it was employed in several pornographic libels against Marie Antoinette, who was "tried and roundly convicted in the press" as being a tribade. "[Her] rumored tribadism had historically specific political implications," stated author Dena Goodman. "Consider her final (fictive) testimony in The Confession of Marie-Antoinette: 'People!' she protests, 'because I ceded to the sweet impressions of nature, and in imitating the charming weakness of all the women of the court of France, I surrendered to the sweet impulsion of love...you hold me, as it were, captive within your walls?'" Goodman elaborated that in one libel, Marie-Antoinette is described as generously providing details of her husband's "incapacity in the venereal act" and that her lust resulted in her taking an aristocratic beauty Yolande de Polastron, the Duchess of Polignac (1749-1793), "into [her] service" and later specifying that what makes sex with a woman so appealing is "Adroit in the art of stimulating the clitoris"; Marie-Antoinette is described as having stated that La Polignac's attentions produced "one of those rare pleasures that cannot be used up because it can be repeated as many times as one likes".
By the time the Victorian era arrived, cited author Bonnie Zimmerman, "tribadism tended to be constructed as a lower class and non-Western phenomenon and often was associated with the supposed degeneration of prostitutes and criminals". By the twentieth century, "tribade had been supplanted" by the terms sapphist, lesbian, invert, and homosexual, as tribade had become too archaic to use. Fricatrice, a synonym for tribade that also refers to rubbing but has a Latin rather than a Greek root, appeared in English texts as early as 1605 (in Ben Jonson's Volpone). Its usage suggests that it was more colloquial and more pejorative than tribade. Variants include the Latinized confricatrice and English rubster.
Sex positions and other aspects
Tribadism is a common sexual practice among women who have sex with women (WSW). Although the term tribadism is often applied to the act of vulva-to-vulva stimulation, it encompasses a variety of sexual activity. In addition to the scissoring position, which involves the partners interlocking their legs in a position similar to the shape of scissors and pressing their vulvas together, tribadism may involve a missionary position, a woman on top position, a doggy style position or others, or simple movement of the woman's vulva against her partner's thigh, stomach, buttocks, arm, or another body part. Vaginal penetration by use of the fingers or by use of a dildo may be accompanied, and so sometimes "mutuality and reciprocation tend not to be the main objective, although satisfaction for both partners through different means most definitely is its aim". Women who enjoy or prefer tribadism report finding pleasure from its allowance of whole-body contact, the experience of timing hip movement and feeling their partner's motions without manual stimulation, which is considered exciting, erotic and a much easier way to achieve orgasm due to ample clitoral stimulation.
Some lesbian and bisexual women do not engage in the scissoring position, because they find it physically uncomfortable, feel that it is not representative of lesbian sexual practices and is more attributable to the male fantasies of the heterosexual porn industry, or because they otherwise have not included it as part of their sex lives. The Raw Story states, "Whether [the scissoring position] describes a traditional or even common lesbian act remains up for debate." Some sources, however, such as Shere Hite's 1976 and 1981 research, show that women may enjoy performing the scissoring position with other women because it is a variation of vulva-to-vulva contact or can allow for maximum vulva-to-vulva contact and therefore an elevated level of intimacy.
Scissoring is commonly used as an umbrella term for all forms of tribadism, and many lesbian and bisexual women are unaware that some of the sexual acts they include in their lovemaking are aspects of and are formally labeled tribadism, as tribadism is commonly omitted from mainstream sex research. Judith Halberstam, in her book Female Masculinity, stated, "If we trace the use of the term forward into present, we find that tribadism is one of those rarely discussed but often practiced sexual activities, and the silence that surrounds it now is as puzzling as the discourse it produced in earlier centuries." She added that Sigmund Freud "had nothing to say" with regard to the topic, "and few contemporary lesbian sex books even discuss it".
According to older studies, "approximately one-third of lesbian women used tribadism, or body contact, as a means of achieving orgasm (Saghir & Robins, 1973; Jay & Young, 1977)". Masters and Johnson's 1979 study on lesbian sexual practices found that vaginal penetration with dildos is rare, and that lesbians tend to do more overall genital stimulation than direct clitoral stimulation, which is also often the case for heterosexual relationships. In 1987, a non-scientific study (Munson) "was conducted of more than 100 members of a lesbian social organization in Colorado" and "[w]hen asked what techniques they used in their last 10 lovemaking sessions, 100% were for kissing, sucking on nipples, and manual stimulation of the clitoris; more than 90% reported French kissing, oral sex, and fingers inserted into the vagina; and 80% reported tribadism".
In 2003, Julia V Bailey and her research team published data based on a sample from the United Kingdom of 803 lesbian and bisexual women attending two London lesbian sexual health clinics and 415 women who have sex with women from a community sample; the study reported that 85% of the women engaged in tribadism (whether genital-to-genital contact or rubbing genitals against another part of a partner's body), and, like older studies, that vaginal penetration with dildos, or with other sex toys, among women who have sex with women is rare.
As with any exchange of body fluids during sexual activities, genital-to-genital tribadism has the potential to transfer sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs) if those are present in one or more of the partners. AIDS.gov and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health state that genital-genital and genital-body contact (including tribadism) can spread STIs such as HPV, pubic lice (crabs) and herpes and that "wearing clothes and for herpes, avoiding contact if sores are present, reduces the risks". Other safe sex options, such as use of a dental dam or a cut-open condom, may also be practiced. However, there "is no good evidence" that using a dental dam reduces STI transmission risks between women who have sex with women; studies show that using a dental dam as a protection barrier is rarely practiced, and that, among [women who have sex with women], this may be because the individuals have "limited knowledge about the possibilities of STI transmission or [feel] less vulnerable to STIs [such as HIV]". For further safe sex precautions, the American Family Physician advises lesbian and bisexual women to avoid unprotected contact with a sexual partner's menstrual blood and with any visible genital lesions.
Popular culture and other media
Tribadism has been referenced in various aspects of popular culture. The glam pop band Scissor Sisters derived their name from the scissoring position. Jake Shears of the group stated that while many of their songs have gay themes, they do not want to be labeled a gay band; they "are first and foremost a pop band". Other bands named after tribadism include lesbian punk band Tribe 8 and all-male group Scissorfight.
Genital-genital tribadism was depicted three times during the "D-Yikes!" episode of the cartoon South Park, referred to in the episode as scissoring. The episode is credited with having popularized the term scissoring, with The Raw Story stating, "Though the band 'Scissor Sisters' takes its name from descriptions of the act, it wasn't until scissoring was dramatized in the 2007 'South Park' episode 'D-Yikes' that it achieved wide recognition in mainstream culture." The term additionally received mainstream recognition after the episode "Duets" of the television series Glee had characters Santana Lopez and Brittany S. Pierce reference scissoring while making out. The scene received some criticism for possibly being inappropriate for children.
In 2010, in response to California State University, Long Beach refusing to advertise the play "The Night of the Tribades" on the Seventh Street marquee because of the word tribades in its title, approximately 24 theater arts majors protested in front of Brotman Hall by simulating tribadism (including scissoring). "When you put tribade into a Google search image, apparently it comes up with the word tribadism, which is a sex act and they decided it was inappropriate," stated one student.
Tribadism and other lesbian sex scenes are featured in the 2013 film Blue Is the Warmest Colour. The scenes were the subject of debate among lesbians and critics, with the depiction of scissoring being one of the acts that were criticized; in an interview surveying a small panel of lesbian women, one of the women replied, "The scissoring: wish it could happen, never's happened once in human history. I'd rather go lick a Baskin Robbins ice cream cone." The same woman seemed more open to the idea of a reverse cowgirl position of scissoring, and one of the women had engaged in that position.
Among female bonobos
Female-female genital sex is not exclusive to humans. Females of the bonobo species, found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also engage in this act, usually referred to by primatologists as GG rubbing (genito-genital). "Perhaps the bonobo's most typical sexual pattern, undocumented in any other primate, is genito-genital rubbing (or GG rubbing) between adult females," stated primatologist Frans de Waal. "One female facing another clings with arms and legs to a partner that, standing on both hands and feet, lifts her off the ground."
In bonobos, the clitoris is larger and more externalized than in most mammals. Ethologist Jonathan Balcombe states that bonobos rub their clitorises together rapidly for ten to twenty seconds, and this behavior, "which may be repeated in rapid succession, is usually accompanied by grinding, shrieking, and clitoral engorgement"; on average, female bonobos engage in genital-genital rubbing "about once every two hours".
- Frot—the male-male version of frottage
- Intercrural sex—sexual practice of a male placing his penis between his partner's thighs and thrusting to create friction
- Vanilla sex
- Gould, George M. (1936). Gould's Pocket Medical Dictionary (10th rev. ed.). P. Blakiston's Son & Co. Ltd.
- Bonnie Zimmerman (2000). Lesbian histories and cultures: an encyclopedia (Volume 1). Taylor & Francis. pp. 776–777. ISBN 0-8153-1920-7. Retrieved February 29, 2012.
- Belge, Kathy. "What is Tribadism". About.com. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
- Cathy Winks & Anne Semans (2002). The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex (3rd ed.). Cleis Press. ISBN 1-57344-158-9.
- Janell L. Carroll (2009). Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity. Cengage Learning. p. 272. ISBN 0-495-60274-4. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
- Hite, Shere (2004). The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. p. 322. ISBN 1583225692. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
- Jude Schell (2008). Lesbian Sex: 101 Lovemaking Positions. Random House Digital. p. 18. ISBN 0-495-60274-4. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
- Todd C. Penner; Caroline Vander Stichele (2007). "Still before sexuality: "Greek" androgyny, the Roman imperial politics of masculinity and the Roman invention of the Tribas". Mapping gender in ancient religious discourses. Brill. pp. 11–21. ISBN 90-04-15447-7. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
- Halberstam, Judith (1998). Female Masculinity. Duke University Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9780822322436. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
- Dena Goodman (2003). Marie-Antoinette: writings on the body of a queen. Psychology Press. pp. 144–145. ISBN 0-415-93395-1. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
- τριβάς, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon on Perseus
- τρίβω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon on Perseus
- Oxford English Dictionary 2nd. Ed.
- Rictor Norton (July 12, 2002). "A Critique of Social Constructionism and Postmodern Queer Theory, "The 'Sodomite' and the 'Lesbian'". infopt.demon.co.uk. Archived from the original on February 15, 2008. Retrieved July 30, 2011.
- Sihvola, Juha; Nussbaum, Martha Craven (2002). The sleep of reason: erotic experience and sexual ethics in ancient Greece and Rome. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-60915-4.
- Warren J. Blumenfeld; Diane Christine Raymond (1993). Looking at gay and lesbian life. Beacon Press. p. 93. ISBN 0-8070-7923-5. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
- "Invading the Roman Body: Manliness and Impenetrability in Roman Thought," pp. 30–31, and Pamela Gordon, "The Lover's Voice in Heroides 15: Or, Why Is Sappho a Man?," p. 283, both in Roman Sexualities. Marilyn B. Skinner (1997). Roman Sexualities. Princeton University Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-691-01178-8. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- "Look Who's Laughing at Sex: Men and Women Viewers in the Apodyterium of the Suburban Baths at Pompeii," in The Roman Gaze, p. 168. The dildo is rarely mentioned in Roman sources, but was a popular comic item in Classical Greek literature and art; Richlin, "Sexuality in the Roman Empire," p. 351. David Fredrick (2002). The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body. JHU Press. p. 149. ISBN 0-8018-6961-7. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- Martial 1.90 and 7.67, 50; Richlin, "Sexuality in the Roman Empire," p. 347. John R. Clarke (2001). Looking at lovemaking: constructions of sexuality in Roman art, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250, Part 250. University of California Press. p. 55. ISBN 0-520-22904-5. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- Andreadis, Harriette (2001). Sappho in Early Modern England: Female Same-Sex Literary Erotics, 1550–1714. University of Chicago Press. pp. 41, 49–51. ISBN 0-226-02009-6.
- Jonathan Zenilman; Mohsen Shahmanesh (2011). Sexually Transmitted Infections: Diagnosis, Management, and Treatment. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. pp. 329–330. ISBN 0495812943. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
- Jerrold S. Greenberg; Clint E. Bruess; Sarah C. Conklin (2007). Exploring the Dimensions of Human Sexuality. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 429. ISBN 9780763741488. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
- Douglas C. Kimmel; Tara Rose; Steven David (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender aging: research and clinical perspectives. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 73. ISBN 9780231136181. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
- Ruth Karola Westheimer (2000). Encyclopedia of sex. Continuum. p. 166. ISBN 0826412408. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
A common variation is 'tribadism,' where two women lie face to face, one on top of the other. The genitals are pressed tightly together while the partners move in a grinding motion. Some rub their clitoris against their partner's pubic bone.
- Robert Crooks; Karla Baur (2010). Our Sexuality. Cengage Learning. p. 239. ISBN 0495812943. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
Rubbing genitals together or against other parts of a partner's body can be included in any couple's sexual interaction and is common in lesbian lovemaking... ...Many lesbians like [tribadism] because it involves all-over body contact and a generalized sensuality. Some women find the thrusting exciting; others straddle a partner's leg and rub gently. Some rub the clitoris on the partner's pubic pone (Loulan, 1984).
- Dowling, Nikki (December 4, 2009). "Girl On Girl: 11 Misconceptions About Lesbians". The Frisky (website). TheFrisky.com. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
- Jones, Mia (December 22, 2009). "All lesbians are good at sports, and other misconceptions". AfterEllen.com. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
- "Sarah Silverman offers to 'scissor' Sheldon Adelson for Obama". The Raw Story. July 16, 2012. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
- Hess, Amanda (November 24, 2009). "Lesbians Don't Scissor Edition". Washington City Paper. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
- Parello, Jennifer (July 28, 2011). "Scissor Sex". Lavender. Retrieved December 1, 2013.
- Rivera, Stephanie (November 17, 2010). "CSULB students protest censorship of lesbian terminology". daily49er.com. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
- Letitia Anne Peplau; Linda D. Garnets (2002). Women's Sexualities: New Perspectives on Sexual Orientation and Gender (Volume 56 of Journal of Social Issues). Wiley-Blackwell. p. 320. ISBN 978-1-4051-0080-9. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
- J V Bailey; C Farquhar; C Owen; D Whittaker (April 2003). "Sexual behaviour of lesbians and bisexual women" (PDF). Sexually Transmitted Infections. 79 (2): 147–150. doi:10.1136/sti.79.2.147. PMC . PMID 12690139.
- "Sexual Risk Factors". AIDS.gov. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
- "Sexually Transmitted Disease Program - Resources for Lesbian & Bisexual Women". Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Archived from the original on December 19, 2013. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
- "Safe Sex for lesbian and bisexual women". The Lesbian & Gay Foundation. Archived from the original on December 1, 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2011.
- Chivers, Meredith L.; Wiedermana, Michael W. (2006). "Primary Care for Lesbians and Bisexual Women". American Family Physician. 74 (2): 279–286. doi:10.1080/00224490709336797.
- Harrington, Richard (January 7, 2005). "Scissor Sisters: On the Cutting Edge". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
- Hannaford, Alex (2005). Scissor Sisters. London: Artnik. Page 29.
- "Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary". San Francisco Bay Guardian. 12 July 2006.
- Poniewozik, James (October 13, 2010). "Glee Watch: It Takes Two". Time. Time Inc. Retrieved October 13, 2010.
- Oldenburg, Ann (October 13, 2010). "'Glee' cheerleaders share 'sweet lady kisses'". USA Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved October 13, 2010.
- Saraiya, Sonia (November 11, 2013). "Lesbians have some thoughts about the sex scenes in Blue Is The Warmest Color". The A.V. Club/avclub.com. Retrieved December 1, 2013.
- Bahr, Lindsey (November 11, 2013). "Lesbians react to 'Blue Is the Warmest Color' sex scene: 'That's a classic move' -- VIDEO". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 1, 2013.
- de Waal, Frans (Mar 1995). "Bonobo sex and society" (reprint). 272 (3). Scientific American: 82–8. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0395-82. PMID 7871411.
- Paoli T, Palagi E, Tacconi G, Tarli SB (Apr 2006). "Perineal swelling, intermenstrual cycle, and female sexual behavior in bonobos (Pan paniscus)". Am J Primatol. 68 (4): 333–47. doi:10.1002/ajp.20228. PMID 16534808.
- Balcombe, Jonathan Peter (2011). The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure. University of California Press. p. 88. ISBN 0520260244. Retrieved November 22, 2012.
- Magee, Bryan (26 March 1965). "The Facts about Lesbianism: A Special Inquiry into a Neglected Problem". New Statesman. 69 (1776): 492, column 3. The first known usage in print of the word "tribadism" for the activity.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tribadic positions.|
|Look up tribadism, tribbing, or scissoring in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|